By Dr Ananya Mandal, MD
Breastfeeding may seem like a challenge at the beginning. However, for mothers who can commit to this practice, it can be a wonderful experience for both the mother and the baby and bring several benefits to both.
There are some simple tips to make the practice work to the best advantage of both mother and the baby:-
Breastfeeding should begin as soon after birth as possible and be continued exclusively until the baby is 6 months old. Colostrum, the early milk that is secreted right after childbirth, possesses several beneficial nutrients and should be offered to the baby.
Understanding and recognizing cues for the baby’s hunger signs. Usual signs of hunger include alertness in the baby when he or she starts to move their head and look around for the nipple to suck on. Signals may begin with lip smacking, making sucking noises. Babies may suck on his or her own finger or fist or an offered finger of an adult. As he or she gets hungrier this may result in a crying to be fed. Once the baby is crying or is upset, getting a good latch is difficult unless the baby calms down. Thus it is important not to let the baby progress to the cry-phase.
Following the baby’s cues for comfortable latching. Every baby has his or her own preferences for feeding. Some babies may take milk from both breasts at a single sitting while others may be satisfied with just one breast.
The initial milk that comes is called the fore milk and this is thinner and more watery. This helps to quench the thirst of the baby. After the initial phase the milk is thicker and is called the hind milk. This satisfies the hunger of the baby. Babies need both fore and hind milk. Mothers should ensure that both the fore milk and the hind milk are given to the baby before turning the baby to the other breast.
Keeping the baby close with preferable skin-to-skin contact while feeding. Keeping the baby against naked skin helps the baby to remain warm and calm while feeding.
Avoiding nipple confusion – nipple confusion occurs in babies less than six weeks if they are offered an artificial nipple, bottles or pacifier. These nipples are different from the mother’s nipple in shape and feel. Thus the baby may be confused and this makes breastfeeding difficult. Expressed breast milk may be given initially in bottles instead of artificial feed to prevent the baby from getting nipple confusion. This should be tried only if the mother wishes to join work and stop or space out regular breastfeeding schedules.
Rooming in and staying close - at least the initial few weeks the mother should have the baby close by in a crib or bassinet. This helps the mother breastfeed according to demands and needs throughout the night. Sharing a room with parents is linked to a lower risk of SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome).
During early weeks the baby may not wake up at regular interval for feeds. The mother needs to wake the baby up every four hours for a feed. Waking the baby up should be gentle. It could be by changing the wet diaper, placing the baby close to the mother’s naked skin or gently massaging the baby’s abdomen, legs and back. Some babies may also fall asleep while feeding. The mother can gently wake the baby up and help him or her resume feeding.
Mothers need to follow a healthy and balanced diet and drink plenty of water and fluids to prevent dehydration. There are no special diets for lactating mothers. Breastfeeding mothers should be aware that most drugs (prescribed, over the counter and illegal or illicit), cigarette smoke and alcohol have the potential to travel into breast milk and reach the baby. They need to abstain from alcohol, drugs and smoking as much as possible while breastfeeding.
Maintenance of hygiene in a newborn especially ones that are fed on expressed breast milk is vital. The nipples of a breastfeeding mother should be kept clean and air dried often to prevent sore nipples and infections. Breast engorgement should be treated promptly to prevent severe infections.
Reviewed by April Cashin-Garbutt, BA Hons (Cantab)